Former St. Louis Cardinals pitching phenom Rick Ankiel delivered the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night at Busch Stadium.
Ankiel’s appearance was to promote his new book, written by Tim Brown, “The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who caught the low delivery from Ankiel, read an early release of the book.
“I thought it was a very real, raw book. He was very open. That was commendable,” said Matheny, the Cardinals’ catcher in Ankiel’s rookie season of 2000.
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Matheny sliced his right ring finger with a hunting knife, presented to him as a birthday gift, before the final regular-season series of the year in 2000.
With Matheny not behind the plate, Ankiel imploded with a record five wild pitches in the third inning of Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves.
Ankiel didn’t pitch again in the series, then struggled in two NL Championship Series games against the New York Mets and never was the same again.
Ankiel retired from pitching in March 2005 and came back as a power-hitting outfielder in August 2007. He hit 11 homers in 172 at-bats that season, then smashed 25 in 413 at-bats in 2008. Ankiel left the Cardinals in January 2010, signing a one-year free-agent contract with the Kansas City Royals.
Ankiel’s last game was June 8, 2013, with the New York Mets.
Matheny still regrets the accident that kept him from participating in the playoffs in 2000.
“I would have liked to have been there for a number of reasons,” Matheny said. “One, for (Ankiel), personally. For me, personally, that would have been my first time playing in the playoffs. That was heartbreaking to finally get there after seven, eight years. I felt I let the team down.”
Lyons nearing activation
Cardinals left-hander Tyler Lyons threw 73 pitches in his third rehab start for Class AAA Memphis on Monday and could be activated Friday or Saturday in Milwaukee.
Lyons, however, has heard nothing definitive.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything particular” left to do, Lyons said Tuesday. “I’m working and keeping things moving forward. But I wouldn’t say there’s one particular thing I’m lacking.
“I’m relatively stretched out. Any time you get the opportunity to come pitch, you want to make the most of it. So I’m excited.”
Lyons’ surgically repaired right knee has healed and he owns a 1.29 ERA in 14 innings of rehab work, with two walks and 14 strikeouts.
“We’re always realizing he’s an option for us as he goes further into games and gets a better feel for his stuff,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We’ll keep an eye on how he’s rebounding and we’re still keeping an eye on how he feels after he pitches. Everything so far has been very positive. He’s increasing his chances of being able to help us.”
Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Starling Marte was suspended for 80 games Tuesday for testing positive for the performance-enhancing substance Nandrolone.
Marte’s absence until late July greatly diminishes the Pirates’ chances to contend in the NL Central. They already were without third baseman Jung Ho Kang, who is on the restricted list as he awaits a work visa in South Korea following a third DUI arrest in the offseason.
Marte, a two-time Gold Glover in left field and an All-Star in 2016, was batting .241 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 13 games this season.
“Everyone knows he makes their offense a lot better just because having him on the bases, a stolen base (is possible) and on a base hit, he’s going from first to third every time,” said Cardinals catcher Eric Fryer, a teammate of Marte’s last season. “He’s just a really exciting player to watch, very explosive. You can’t replicate what he does on the bases.”
Fryer said he was surprised when he heard the news.
“You come in expecting what their lineup’s going to be and seeing him in it because he’s in it every day,” Fryer said. “It’s definitely kind of a shock.”
Asked how Marte’s absence affects the Pirates, replied: “He’s a good player.”
Fowler getting close
Center fielder Dexter Fowler began Tuesday batting .132 (7 for 53), and his 16 strikeouts matched Randal Grichuk for the team lead.
Fowler hit two balls hard Monday and Matheny believes he’s shaking his slump.
“Everybody in the game knows the kind of hitter this guy is,” Matheny said. “Just like our team, you’re going to have those ruts. It’s always nice to have a good run. Then if you have that rut, you remember the good run. He’s had a whole career of that kind of offensive production, those grinding at-bats. He’s going to get there.
“He’s working. He’s thinking his way through it. He’s going back into his own archives to figure out what it is that gets him back to where he wants to be.”